First published in 1971, The Abortion was Brautigan's fourth published novel, and the first with a subtitle: "An Historical Romance 1966." Brautigan began capturing ideas for what he hoped would be a new novel with a working title of "The American Experience by Richard Brautigan" at the end of November 1965. The opening chapter began, "The American experience is an operation illegal in this country: abortion. This is our story. There are thousands like us in America [. . .] in every state, in every city."
In March 1966, Brautigan began developing the story idea in earnest. He decided to call the heroine Vida Kramer, perhaps a painful nod to the small town of Vida, Oregon, along the McKenzie River where Linda Webster had, years earlier, spurned his declaration of love. The library for unpublished manuscripts was based on Brautigan's experience with the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library (see below). The librarian shared details with Brautigan himself: same age, description, history, etc. The imaginary character Vida was based on Janice Meissner, Brautigan's real-life girlfriend. The trip to Mexico was based on Brautigan's research.
On 26 March, Brautigan took a one-day research trip to Tijuana, Mexico, a city known in 1966 for offering several clinics where one could undergo procedures for terminating unwanted pregnancies. He flew aboard Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) flight 840 from San Francisco to San Diego, California. It was his first airplane flight, and Brautigan made many observations of the experience in his notebook, most of found their way into the novel.
In San Diego, Brautigan boarded a Greyhound bus—one left every fifteen minutes—bound for Tijuana. Again, Brautigan made many notes: Tijuana's welcoming arch, the government tourist building, the crowded streets, the Woolworth's department store, all details which made their way into the novel. He did not, however, visit an abortion clinic. Brautigan's notes during the bus ride and visit in Tijuana refer to "Vida" as if she were traveling with him.
Having completed his fact finding, Brautigan returned to San Francisco on PSA flight 631 that evening. He transcribed his notes into twenty-one typewritten pages. Nearly all the details he observed and noted he included in his evolving novel.
From October 1967-April 1968, Robert Park Mills, Brautigan's literary agent at the time, tried to sell The Abortion to a New York publisher. The manuscript was rejected by Harcourt, Brace and World, Simon and Schuster, Viking, Putnam, Harper and Row, Random House, Morrow, Dial, Doubleday, Macmillian, Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Mills and Brautigan exchanged a number of letters throughout this process. After more than a year Doubleday and Company expressed interest to publish Trout Fishing in America and one other novel, possibly The Abortion. The deal never materialized, however.
The plot of The Abortion follows a young man, the narrator, who works and lives in the library, a Brautigan world of lonely pleasure, where he meets a woman. After impregnating the woman, the narrator supports her abortion. In the process he learns how to reenter human society.
The inspiration for the library is factual. The abortion is more problematic.
The library is old in the San Francisco post-earthquake yellow-brick style and is located at 3150 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, California 94115. (The Abortion 22)
This library rests upon a sloping lot that runs all the way through the block down from Clay to Sacramento Street. We use just a small portion of the lot and the rest of it is overgrown with tall grass and bushes and flowers and wine bottles and lovers' trysts. (33)
There are some old cement stairs that pour through green and busy establishments down from the Clay Street side and there are ancient electric lamps, Friends of Thomas Edison, mounted on tall metal asparagus stalks. (33-34)
They are on what was once the second landing of the stairs. (34)
The back of the library lies almost disappearing in green at the bottom of the stairs. (34)
There are high arched windows here in the library above the bookshelves and there are two green trees towering into the windows and they spread their branches like paste against the glass. (35)
I love those trees. (35)
"You went to Mexico when you got pregnant with Richard," he [Bukowski] said hissing.Whether McClure's reference speaks to Finley's alleged abortion with Brautigan, or whether it is a reference to a second alleged abortion, is uncertain. Finley's reference to an abortion with Brautigan seems unlikely. First, Finley claims she met Brautigan in mid-January 1971, and therefore the abortion she alleges sharing with Brautigan would have been after this date. Of note: Finley, born in 1956, would have been 15 when she met Brautigan. Finally, Brautigan wrote The Abortion in the mid-1960s, well before Finley claims to have first met him. For these reasons it seems unlikely that an alleged abortion shared with Finley could have had a direct influence on the writing of the novel.
"Yes, and that was when abortion was illegal! You can't let him go can you? Besides, he's dead! He's dead! I was only a kid." (111)
I met Richard Brautigan at Enrico's cafe on Broadway and Kearny down the street from City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1971. It was 1:30 AM and I had just ended my shift as a cocktail waitress at the infamous strip club The Condor. Enrico the owner of the bistro wanted me for I was underage and looked it. He promised to set me up in my own apartment. He never had me but would rub my knee while I ate my club sandwich and drank my hot cocoa. He would always give the taxi driver ten dollars to take me home.
Enrico introduced me to Richard Brautigan in mid-January and it surprised Enrico when I told the table that I had written a term paper on him the year before as a sophomore in high school. That is when Enrico stopped wanting me, for the turn on was that I knew nothing and now that I revealed myself I would have to pay for my own damn sandwich. I knew Brautigan's poetry by heart and when I spoke Richard became enamored. Richard was drunk, despondent, and disillusioned but I was a devoted fan.
So that is how I met Richard Brautigan. I later met Kathey Acker as my teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute, who introduced me to Gregory Corso, who introduced me to Bukowski at Brautigan's funeral.
The Brautigan issue with Bukowski was that I became pregnant with Richard and had an emotionally, highly charged, dramatic illegal abortion in Mexico. A conflict and an intimacy that Charles grew envious and jealous of as his feelings for me deepened. The fact that I actually read Brautigan and never read Bukowski made matters worse. So now you know. I had an affair with Bukowski and never read any of his goddamn books. (112)
Frank [Curtin]:After moving into his apartment at 2546 Geary Boulevard, summer 1966, Brautigan asked his neighbor, Lois Weber, wife of photographer Erik Weber to leave a note for Frank Curtin who planned to visit the apartment and read the manuscript of Brautigan's new novel. She pinned a note to Brautigan's front door. When he returned to his apartment, Brautigan found the note still pinned to the front door. He removed it, and typed it verbatim into his manuscript as the dedication, another example of his use of found art in his writing. Brautigan used the dedication page from the manuscript as a thank you note to Lois Weber. See "Inscribed Copies > Erik and Lois Weber" below for more information.
come on in —
read novel —
it's on table
in front room.
I'll be back
This copy is for Robert CreeleyBrautigan included a small drawing of a fish with his inscription.
March 10, 1971
This copy is for John and Margot Doss
October 9, 1971
This copy is for Erik and Lois Weber
March 10, 1971
June 27, 1966
The titular operation is the turning point in an amiable fairy tale, rather in the courtly antique French style, about a dreamy youth and a timid damsel who join forces, correct each other's disabilities, and trot off to school in Berkeley, California, presumably to live happily ever after. Mr. Brautigan's prose is spirited and ingenious, and he defies sentimental convention by depicting a clean, sane, courteous, and efficient illegal abortionist.
It is a good deal less grotesque and fantastic than its forerunners, a good deal less ambitious as well. It doesn't play as many tricks with the prose or with the surface of things; it is a milder, blander book than either of its immediate predecessors.
Where have all the flowers gone? Well, they're quite fresh here and Brautigan's Pied Pipedreams have lured a tremendous number of younger readers in his earlier novels which appeared in paper (Trout Fishing in America; A Confederate General from Big Sur; In Watermelon Sugar). Nothing disturbs the droll, easy, affectionate vision—even the abortion of the title and the fact thereof. For starters, this begins in the library, a library on an old overgrown lot in San Francisco where for years aspirants of all ages leave the books they've written—like Mrs. Adams' Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms. They're the books of "all the losers and dingalings" and sealed up with the records of the librarian. He's been there for three years until Vida comes with her too beautiful body (her "grand container") which is such an incitement. And she becomes pregnant and they go to Tijuana for the abortion and they return to the library, only to be displaced right back into the world (Berkeley). . . .You can't really persuade yourself into thinking this is important, but you can easily be charmed by its gentle, funny, offbeat state of innocence which is its most appealing assumption and best protection.
A brief diverting tale set in California is narrated by the unnamed librarian of a depository for books which are brought in by their authors for safekeeping rather than for circulation since no titles ever leave the premises. The plot concerns the shattering effect on the young librarian when the beautiful Vida not only brings in her book but decides to remain with him. When they realize that Vida is pregnant they fly to Tijuana, Mexico where she undergoes an abortion. On one level the novel is a portrayal of contemporary California hedonism, on another it is a profile of a society that takes in deposits from life but gives back no issue to mankind.
After Trout Fishing in America (1969), A Confederate General from Big Sur (Choice May 1965), and In Watermelon Sugar (1968), this is Brautigan's fourth novel, and it should please his admirers with the same kind of careless grace and American primitivism that his other fiction possesses. The gentle, open, unnamed hero runs a library where manuscripts are turned in, not taken out, by a host of weird, kooky, amusing characters. When his incredibly beautiful girlfriend, Vida, becomes pregnant, they fly to Mexico for an abortion. The book lives on its details: an affection for instant coffee, the light on the tip of an airplane wing, the Woolworth store in Tijuana, the hero's jovial buddy with his eternal teeshirt and booze. Brautigan's world is one-third wish-fulfillment, one-third escape, and one-third gentle longing for a simplicity and detachment that modern America repudiates. Hence, his fans' continuing appetite for his ingratiating books. This one will not disappoint them.
Richard Brautigan's 'The Abortion' is about footless fumblers and libraries and abortion (Pocket Books, $1.25; IIa, see 31:78).The reference "see 31:78" is a review by Al Phillips (Best Sellers 15 May 1971: 78-79).
And now the American agony retracts into a dream world symbolized in a San Francisco library where anyone can register and deposit their unpublished novel, poems, or play, "the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing". And Brautigan certainly secures some fun (and some sadness) from the titles, subjects, and indeed authors, of the manuscripts brought in. A gentle little book, wittingly written and nicely structured.
Brautigan is, of course, the author of Trout Fishing in America, A Confederate General from Big Sur and In Watermelon Sugar, and one of the most authentic spokesman the Age of Aquarius has yet produced. His new short novel is, despite the shock impact of the title, a gentle and loving book with a curiously innocent approach to life. There is, it seems, a strange public library somewhere in California. It never lends books, it only receives them; and at any hour of the day or night people are free to turn up and deposit copies of books they have written and put together themselves. (One example title is Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms.) The librarian and his girl Vida live and love there until Vida gets pregnant and they go off to Tia Juana for an abortion. The abortion sequence is not so much harrowing as haunting and, like all of this very simple tale, it is in its own way part of a parable for our time. Mr. Brautigan takes the life style of today's young people and gives it an imaginative shake-up that cuts right across the generation gap.
[W]hat happened suddenly to Mr. B's originality? Yet however much one grieves for the collapse of invention, I think the book is still worth your attention for the lovely whacky wayout library operation.READ the full text of this review.
Through word plays—juxtapositions and unusual combinations—we have a work that is beautifully and typically Brautiganesque, that takes readers on a pleasantly humorous journey. In a special library—i.e., one which accepts only original works and acts as a storehouse merely to satisfy the egos of the donors—the narrator and chief librarian (the only employee) meets, likes, and impregnates a beautiful girl who believes she is a prisoner of the wrong body. A trip to Tijuana, arranged with the aid of a drunk cave-dwelling friend, results in the necessary abortion; upon returning home, our hero finds his job usurped by another fringe lunatic. But plot, even a crazy one, is essentially unessential (see Trout Fishing in America, 1969) as one enjoys Brautigan, if at all, for style rather than structure. For uninitiated freaks (and mature young adults) a treat is in store; for his fans this is once again satisfying fare. (see Library Journal May 15 p.1726).
Time Magazine likes Brautigan, he's gentle, humorous, all the things drop outs or whatever you call 'em should be, posing no real threat to the congealed mass of society. So what! Being gentle and humorous can be quite useful even today. His use of images is really tricky, who ever heard of hair being called bat lighting or buffalow [sic] heavy. Just minor enticements to get you to acquire a copy of this book and support Brautiagn in his old age. What's it about? A library where people bring their books, books that are titled Bacon Death and look like greasy pounds of bacon, 90 page leather books on Leather Clothes and the History of Man, The Culinary Dostoevski, Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms, etc. In fact, books that only you or I could write, people who never even took courses from Famous Writers Correspondence Schools. Books we write in our heads while lying half-consciously asleep or awake (take your pick) in bed in the morning, or while working (aargh!) or while taking a shit (ah!). The Abortion is also about being in love (is there such a thing anymore) and disposing of the creations that you occur—i.e. as in foetus hence the title. You also get a summary description of old fun city itself, Tijuana. All in 226 pages of easy to read black print on white paper. Cheap for the value.
The greatest strength of [The Abortion] is that it is not just parody. The work is also a testimony to the enduring truth of literary forms, however incomplete and imperfect—their power to shape human behavior and render psychological reality in dream-like sketches.
Richard Brautigan is an American campus cult-hero, like Borges, Hesse and Tolkien, and he can no more help it than they can. Trout Fishing in America was a marvellous, original book. But a third-year Creative Writing student turning in The Abortion as an exercise would do well to rate C minus. The hero works where he lives, in a library—bolt-hole, symbol, storehouse for unpublished books brought in by their authors. (Pale shades of Borges.) His girl Vida (ravishingly beautiful face, Playmate-of-the-Month figure) gets pregnant: they go to Tijuana for an abortion, return to find the librarian's desk usurped, and take off for Berkeley where our hero becomes, he says, A Hero. Very likely. A total absence of good writing, perceptive description or insights into human purpose, though there's plenty of non-philosophy. A charismatic name doesn't make up for lack of literary quality. Being a cult-hero hasn't done Mr. Brautigan's work much good.
When Richard Brautigan dedicates his "historical romance": The Abortion (1966) with a note reading: "Frank: Come on in—read novel—it's on table in front room. I'll be back in about two hours. Richard," he seems to overestimate his work's profundity and/or fascination by about an hour. (Random sample: "If you get hung up on everybody else's hangups, then the whole world's going to be nothing more than one huge gallows. We kissed.") But there are writers for whom the subject of abortion represents a great deal more than a fad, or the obligatory happy ending to a soap-opera seduction sotry; and its not an accident that many of these authors are Germans, of the post-war era. (229)
Religiously-based ethical aspects of the abortion issue have not been addressed in literary criticism; thus, determining the ethical content of twentieth-century American fiction concerning abortion will assist students of literature and those interested in this controversial issue. Specifically, the author identifies six ethical aspects of the abortion issue discussed in Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The first ethical aspect concerns the lex talionis passage in Exodus. Second, the concepts of "health" and "life" are considered. The study then examines whether the unborn child can be viewed as an aggressor against his or her mother. Determining whether the unborn child possesses "potential" or "actual" life constitutes the fourth ethical aspect, followed by the closely related categories of "formed" and "unformed" fetuses. The last ethical aspect concerns ensoulment. The study conducts close readings of abortion passages in canonical works by Dreiser, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Brautigan, and Irving. Incorporating biographical criticism and other tools of literary research, the author concludes that canonical works do not address these ethical aspects. Finally, the study addresses the six ethical aspects in other twentieth-century non-canonical works.READ the full text of this chapter.
This time around, Brautigan's central metaphor is a library, strange and dreamlike, where books are not read at all. Instead authors are welcomed warmly, register their works, and place them wherever they wish on the library's shelves. As he has successfully done with his Jungian dream world of statues and open graves in In Watermelon Sugar and with his sprawling transformation of the whole country in Trout Fishing in America, Brautigan again declares a war of gentle violence waged by the imagination on the emptiness of contemporary life.
The library works its surprises on our sensibilities, but Brautigan virtually abandons his metaphor in the last two-thirds of the book. An incredibly beautiful girl gives her book to the library and herself to the librarian. The abortion that results leads to a trail of blank book pages, the girl "unconscious with her stomach vacant like a chalkboard, and the librarian's loss of his library. Brautigan's vision of life and imagination aborted is painfully unwavering, but the style of this bulk of the book shifts from the sustained rhythm of dreams in the library to a fading realism that is often no more than warmed-over Hemingway. Without its life-giving metaphor The Abortion fails. But even Brautigan's failures are invigorating. Like Donald Barthelme and others he is carving out a new syntax, his own geography of the imagination. His richness brings new life to the ill-used concept of romanticism, overshadowing the posturings of Erich Segal, and accounting for Brautigan's large and deserved following among the young.
The way I see it, this book is making fun of the conventional novel, laughing out one side of its mouth at the routines expected of novels. It seems to be a story about innner solitude and outward needs.Also mentions Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster in connection with Wurlitzer's Quake saying
Like Brautigan, in his novel The Hawkline Monster, Wurlitzer, attempts to ram a sharp set of horns directly through the flesh of a literary notion of capturing Experience as We Know It. While doing this, Brautigan, like Kotzwinkle, laughs a lot. Wurlitzer has no sense of humor that is allowed expression.
There is not much to Richard Brautigan's The Abortion (Simon & Schuster, $1.95), but what there is is a whimsical delight which appears to have been written in no more time than it takes to read it. It is about a young recluse who works in a San Francisco library for unpublishable books, (The Stereo and God, Your Clothes Are Dead, Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms) and a girl who brings in a book about her beautiful body, in which, she is uncomfortable. Soon she is comfortable in the back room with the hero, and a bit later she is pregnant, so the two of them make a pleasant journey to Tijuana for an abortion and return without incident, to find that someone else has taken charge of the library, but that's all right because she had mentioned that he'd be "Great at Berkeley," so they go there and he is and, one imagines, they live happily ever after.
I was also pleased by the throwaway quality of many lines in Richard Brautigan's latest historical romance. First of all you get a frontispiece with real people in it, good-looking too, then a friendly dedication and a "Book I" entitled "Buffalo Girls, Won't You Come Out Tonight?" This is all before the abortion part starts, and our hero is alone, minding the library where various authors come and present a book they've written, then steal away into the night. Book like this: "MY TRIKE, by Chuck. The author was five years old..."; or "LOVE ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL, by Charles Green. The author was about fifty years old and said he had been trying to find a publisher for his book since he was seventeen years old . . . 'It has been rejected 459 times and now I a man old man'"; or "SAM SAM SAM, by Patricia Evens Summers. 'It's a book of literary essays,' she said. 'I've always admired Alfred Kazin and Edmund Wilson... She was a woman in her late fifties who looked a good deal like Edmund Wilson"; or "HE KISSED ALL NIGHT, by Susan Margar. . . You had to look twice to see if she had any lips on her face. It was a surprise to find her mouth almost totally hidden beneath her nose. 'It's about kissing,' she said." Brautigan and Linda Grace Hoyer would make a strange pair, yet I felt I knew where I was in relation to each writer, and at least had no fear of being bludgeoned to death by overactive prose.
Brautigan, whose bewhiskered figure adorns the cover of his book, has a large following among the young; and one can see why. His books read more like poems or folk songs than novels; they combine an old-fashioned (and fashionable) nostalgia for the "old" America with a zany, knowing humour which suggests that the author is much more sophisticated than he looks. The Abortion is an allegory about lost innocence. Its central symbol is a crumbling library in San Francisco which specialises in unpublishable manuscripts with titles like The Egg Laid Twice or Love Always Beautiful (rejected 459 times)—the "unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing." The librarian, a gentle hermit, hasn't been outside the building for years, when the beautiful Vida bursts in on his quiet routine. Vida hates her Playboy curves, but the librarian soon cures her of her hang-up. Their low-key idyll is shattered when she gets pregnant and they have to fly to Tijuana for an abortion. After going through the pipeline at Dr. Garcia's surgery, they return home to find that the librarian has been ousted from his job. Vida is delighted, and they move to Berkeley to do their own thing like everybody else. Amusing as they are, I must confess to finding Brautigan's parables a bit cloying; certainly a little of his faux-naïf style goes a long way, and it can degenerate into self-parody ("Vida had taught me to smell coffee. That was the way she made it"). However, his jokes are usually so good that one can enjoy the books for laughs without worrying too much about the message.
A postcript: On the enthusiastic recommendation of a personally-highly-regarded youth of semi-hippie persuasion I have read the "new kind of librarian" novel, The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. I regret to indecently expose my generation gap (and split an infinitive in the process) by saying that I found this frothy fiction to be a waste of time to read, a waste of money to pay for, and a waste of space on the library shelf. It might have some negative value as an exercise in emptiness. (477)
Charm, not in buckets but in dainty ladles, is Richard Brautigan's stock in trade. It's the kind of charm that goes with being whimsical, inconsequential, a bit goofy and vulnerable, hospitable to the wisecrack but not waiting too long for the laughs: it hasn't the hard edge of cruelty of a lot of American humour, but it does have something to do with the tall story—Pecos Pete, Johnny Appleseed, and that sort of folksy fabrication. A little goes a long way, and The Abortion begins to pall quite quickly. The nameless librarian, who sits all day and night in a library which is a repository solely of unpublishable books brought in by their authors, is a gentle innocent somnambulising his way through life, until Vida ("incredibly delicate face . . . very large fully realised breasts and an incredibly tiny waist") arrives on the scene. the result is the abortion, which involves a slow-motion journey to and from Mexico. Brautigan gives even this bleak operation a measure of guileless charm. But there isn't much else to the book (in the old days one would have written of its "gossamer-thin delicacies"), and I still can't fathom why Richard Brautigan has become a part of the cult-pantheon of American youth. He seems harmless but soft.
I find myself quoted, with brazen selective distortions on the jacket of Richard Brautigan's The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (Cape £1.95). Cape should be ashamed. They won't get the same chance again. This present book merely shows that the helpful advice offered on the last occasion has been ignored, with foreseeable results. Mr. Brautigan, for lack of discipline, either self-imposed or otherwise, is falling away even farther from his early promise. Freshness becomes a trick of attitudinising, the taut directness of which he is capable becomes lost in a fanciful mess of pretentious whimsy.